A School Leader’s Guide to Systems Thinking: Using the LIST Model to Solve Problems

A School Leader’s Guide to Systems Thinking: Using the LIST Model to Solve Problems

Systems Check

There she was–angry, frustrated, scared, and thankful all at the same time. The emotions ran together as she stared at her blown-out tire on the side of the highway. Now that she was safe, and the car was on the side of the road, she was angrier than anything–angry at herself for not taking care of the issue when she first noticed it. For weeks now, she felt how the car was pulling to the right more and more, and she sensed that her wheel alignment needed correction ever since she hit that massive pothole after the snow melted away. 

But, it was easily ignored with a little adjustment to how she held the steering wheel, and her work got in the way of what she knew was the need for a systems check and tune-up. Even though she knew that she was compensating for the alignment being off, she never realized the wear-and-tear it was causing on the tires or the potential harm she was putting herself in by ignoring the issue. Stuck on the side of a major interstate, she could kick herself for thinking that she was too busy to address what she knew was an issue, and now her situation is much much worse.  

Aligning Systems 

Alignment is critical to overall efficiency, and it impacts the performance of the car. More importantly, it is part of a network of critical components of a vehicle that allows it to function properly. Schools, businesses, and other organizations are really no different. They are made up of many parts that all serve specific and necessary functions, and if one part is misaligned, the entire organization will suffer. The challenge is to identify the parts that aren’t functioning properly, understand the context of the misalignment, and pursue a solution that will be sustainable. As such, school leaders need to be able to align systems and take notes when they’re not. 

Kirsch, Bildner, and Walker tell HBR readers that for solutions to organizational issues to work, “systems entrepreneurs must have a deep understanding of the system or systems they are trying to change and all the factors that shape it.” In other words, leaders need a deep understanding of their systems to implement new solutions to problems that may, in fact, be caused by the system itself. One such system, with all its facets, policies, and engrained practices, is our school system. From federal policies to state departments to local school districts and even school reform specialists, systems thinking is needed for any substantial changes to be made, especially when problems are age-old and persistent

The problem is that leaders often make four critical mistakes: 1. Implementing solutions before we truly understand the problem, lacking the discipline for learning within the system before looking for solutions; 2. Treating the multitude of symptoms rather than taking a holistic approach to the problem; 3. Mandating wholesale general solutions for unique situations before gaining an understanding of the context; and 4. Making rash decisions that ultimately won’t make sense to the people who matter most. It’s why we developed a new model for school leaders who want to use a systems-thinking approach, but first, let’s define “systems thinking” for school leaders. 

What is Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is defined in a number of ways, but the essence of the notion is that systems thinkers bring together the complex parts of a whole so that sense is made regarding how each part is interrelated. The idea is mostly applied to problem-solving in terms of understanding the larger context before applying a new theory of action. Systems thinking is used in teams so that leaders build a unified perspective before moving to problem-solving whereby everyone might otherwise have a unique perspective of the problem. 

Not using systems thinking as a leader compounds issues because the dynamics and complexities are misunderstood or the team doesn’t have a common vocabulary or there is a lack of discipline with learning (both individually and together). Without systems thinking, the solutions proposed will likely be misaligned to the actual problems at hand. And, the larger the system, the more important it is to have a thinking strategy for problem-solving. We propose a simple model for applying systems thinking to school leadership. 

LIST: A Model for Systems Thinking 

Our model for systems thinking is simple so that school leaders can lead better and grow faster. We use LIST because, at the core of s systems-thinking approach, we are listing all of the parts of the system, which are intertwined to make up the system itself. These cogs are called the interdependent parts of the system. But, that’s not enough, organizations that excel at systems thinking need to be learning-oriented, improving themselves through new developments; they need to understand the context of the system through sensemaking; and they need to have the temperament to build the relationships necessary for sustainable change. 

That makes up LIST and it demonstrates that the technical aspects of interdependency and sensemaking are bookended by the soft skills of learning and temperament. School leaders can remember LIST as a model and use it to address problems in their schools before the wheels are wobbling and we’re on the side of the road. 

Learning: Effective school leaders use the discipline of self-improvement to impact organizational development 

The more a leader learns, the more they develop their capacity, and the greater they equip themselves with the skills to handle complex situations. A focus on self-development also leads to an impact on organizational development. When the school or school system is in a constant cycle of learning and growing, it handles change faster and better than when it’s stagnant. We wrote about this concept of learning in Passionate Leadership, where we uncovered one key to schools that have high levels of achievement for students and teachers. We named this type of environment a “learning culture.” In a learning culture, everyone is apt to learn, bringing their “I’m a learner, first, and a teacher or student, second” mentality to school each day. This completely changes the organizational dynamics in how we approach problems. And, it works best when the school leader sees themselves as what Ryan Hawk calls a “learning leader.” 

The good news is that if you’re reading this blog, you want to lead better and grow faster. You’re already practicing what it takes to be a learning leader, applying the discipline for self-improvement, and hopefully modeling that for others in your system. It’s the first aspect of systems thinking that we introduce because without learning as a core tenant, all other aspects of systems thinking will fail. You can’t take a systems-thinking approach if you’re stuck in the way that you see yourself or the system in the first place. 

Interdependent Parts: Effective school leaders can identify all of the moving parts that make up the whole

One requirement of systems thinking is that all of the moving parts are identified. Understanding the parts in and of themselves is not enough. It’s critical to know what they are, the purpose they serve, and how they function within the whole system. Each part plays a specific role and has a relationship with other parts. In other words, each part functions individually and as a fraction of the whole. 

Recognizing this is especially important when organizations are large or simply complex due to the nature of their scope. This interdependent connectedness means that leaders can unintentionally make decisions in one area that initiates a domino effect in other areas. And, weak areas, or areas with multiple deficits, put an unnecessary strain on the system as a whole–much like the tire that blows because the wheels aren’t aligned. Very small misalignments in one moving part can have a major impact on the system as it moves in unison. 

School leaders can easily fall prey to a misaligned systems problem because of how many moving parts are within a school. We can identify these parts in the curriculum as it unfolds for the learner or as each part of the school works in isolation but also within a system–food services, teaching, and learning, mental health and wellness, buses, etc. The more moving parts that you can identify, the more you need to apply a systems approach, most notably when there’s a problem. 

Sensemaking: Effective school leaders understand that context plays a role in problem-solving 

Every school and the school system is multifaceted and complex. From large to small schools, there are hundreds of moving parts and people, each with its own context. Karl Weick, the organizational psychologist, coined the term “sensemaking” as the leadership skill in understanding the context of situations to draw out issues needing a solution. Executives who are strong in this capability know how to quickly capture the complexities of their environment and explain them to others in simple terms.” For systems thinking to be at its best, teams have to engage in sensemaking as a precursor to problem-solving. Understanding the true nature of an issue is the only way for a solution to be complete.

Sensemaking often leads to empathy as well, which is a leadership superpower. When we know the context of a person or situation, we can see more clearly why something is a problem. And, we can address the circumstances far better if we don’t use blame as our first reaction. Sense-makers do so through the use of a “beginner’s mind.” Rather than applying the typical preconceived notions and foregone conclusions that come from an expert stance on things, they ask questions and create space to make the most sense of what’s actually going on

Temperament: Effective school leaders stay calm, show care, and build relationships with the people they serve 

As a leader, your temperament is important in every scenario, but it’s even more critical in times of change and when we’re implementing new ideas. That’s why we’re including it as a key aspect of systems thinking for school leaders. Complex issues are dynamic and traditional problem-solving methods fall short. Instead, leaders must bring calm to a scenario, show care for the team of people interested in identifying the moving parts and making sense of them for a solution, and build the relationships necessary between people and departments for change to be sustainable. 

Baldoni, the executive coach, and author, says that temperament is a strong attribute of leadership; those with a temperament that is more focused on others will be those who can lead the most effectively.” Systems thinkers have to be focused on their own emotions; they realize that their reactions–positive and negative–are contagious. Being calm brings necessary peace to the people as they work to solve big problems. Without it, we don’t maintain proper perspective, which ends up damaging relationships between people and departments.  

That’s our model for systems thinking. We have used LIST in large and small organizations, and we encourage you to employ this with your team to ensure that you’re applying the important principles of thinking systems as a school leader.

As always, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

What Every School Leader Should Know About Public Relations with Dan Shortridge

What Every School Leader Should Know About Public Relations with Dan Shortridge

“Everywhere, all the time” is a misconception. Pick one or two channels and use them consistently. ~ Dan Shortridge 

What You Should Know About Dan

Dan Shortridge, author of DIY Public Relations, is a communications and marketing consultant and author with more than 20 years of experience in the trenches of local public relations and daily journalism. He’s led communications for a school district and state government agencies and has helped support small businesses and nonprofits. 

He holds a master’s of education in instructional design and a bachelor’s in business administration–marketing. Before moving into public service, he worked for 11 years as a reporter, editor, and designer at newspapers in Delaware, Maryland, and Ohio. 

A national award-winning reporter, he was part of a team that won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists, and was an Ochberg Fellow with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. 

He’s also the co-author of three local-interest books about Delaware and Delmarva. He can be reached at danshortridge.com.

What You’ll Find in This Episode About Public Relations with Dan Shortridge 

Dan makes it clear that marketing is both a business function and a leadership function. It’s not a “nice-to-have thing” but rather a must-have. 

He talked about the many benefits of good marketing. He kicks us off with gems right from the start. 

Joe asked about how school leaders can get started, and Dan talks about your core story–what are the three top impressions that you want your audience to know about? 

Dan talks about the broad themes that leaders can think about as takeaways that they want for their audience and then the stories that go with those themes. 

Don’t miss what he says about knowing your audience and the wide variety of audiences that we have, including parents, students, community members, voters, politicians, union members, etc. He also reminds us that how we target each is vital since we can’t be everything to everybody.

Don’t get overwhelmed! Dan tells us that your communication plan only needs to start as a couple of pages. 

Want to know which platforms to use and which strategies help with public perception? Don’t miss the answer to this one. 

Dan’s Mantra is classic marketing: the most amount of people for the least amount of effort. 

What’s the plot and compelling narrative? Think about obstacles and challenges, characters, and resolutions.

Dan points us to Jesse Cole from the Savannah Bananas as someone to follow. Creative, unique, and different!

Don’t miss what he says about reading novels!

Dan wants to learn more about photography. Listen to what he says about the value of a photo and the gift his wife possesses.

Check out How I Built This, a podcast that Dan recommends. 

Dan used to think that a story needs a nice neat ending, but he realizes now that stories can be messy and unfinished. 

 

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Disrupt the Status Quo: EmbraceYour Inner Rebel Educator for Greater Student Success with Tanya Sheckley

Disrupt the Status Quo: EmbraceYour Inner Rebel Educator for Greater Student Success with Tanya Sheckley

About Tanya Sheckley

Tanya Sheckley is the Founder and President of UP Academy, an elementary lab school that values innovation, empathy, and strength and incorporates a unique neuro-development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya’s vision and mission show it’s possible to celebrate differences, challenge what’s broken in the American education system and that all children can receive a rigorous, well-rounded education. 

She is an edupreneur, author of Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms of Imagination and Impact, and host of the Rebel Educator podcast. She speaks frequently on the future of education and entrepreneurship. She is a rebel educator who works with new and existing schools to question the status quo and develop innovative student experiences through inclusion and project-based learning.

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Tanya Sheckley

From selling beer to educating children. Don’t miss Tanya’s journey to creating UP Academy. 

She opens up about her daughter’s education and her search for “other ways” of educating students with disabilities. 

We all have the one lesson that stands out in our own education, her diorama project sounds amazing!

Her journey in the creation of a school is inspiring. Tanya knew they had to forego many of the policies and procedures and focus on the family and child. A strictly student-centered experience. 

Tanya talks about shifts that schools need to make to revolutionize how we deliver education, especially to students with disabilities. 

A “rebel educator” pushes the status quo and asks questions like, why are we doing this? Who is getting the advantage, and is there a better way?

Don’t miss her juxtaposition of homework and creative play. 

Leading change is never easy and she tells us to start small with “activators.” And then others will become interested. 

 

Tanya looks to a women’s founders group on Facebook that has great questions for entrepreneurs. T.J. recalls the foundational stories that we curated for 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders

She recommends walking and running in the morning as a way to make sure that our minds don’t get sluggish. Move! 

Tanya wants to learn how to play the piano. So many of our guests care about the arts. 

Looking for a coach? She jokes that TheSchoolHouse302 is a great place to go! We appreciate that and you’ll want to hear what she says about coaching and how to find one. 

Listen to her change of heart about children, especially working with them. 

 

Books We Recommend Based on this Podcast with Tanya Sheckley 

Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms Where Impact and Imagination Meet by Tanya Sheckley

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

The A, B, Cs of a Beginner’s Mind: 3 Tips for Solving Old Problems with a New Approach

The A, B, Cs of a Beginner’s Mind: 3 Tips for Solving Old Problems with a New Approach

Great leaders understand that their own learning directly impacts their effectiveness. ~ TheSchoolHouse302

Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi, a Sōtō Zen monk, is known for his words of wisdom about directing our attention to ourselves as learners, not through what we’ve accomplished but through what we still don’t know. “Soto Zen Buddhism is distinguished by its focus on the down-to-earth practice of “everyday zen.” 

We appreciate this sect of Buddhism because it encourages awareness of the workings of one’s own mind as a means of living mindfully in all areas of daily life–at home, at work, and in the community. This is powerful as learners and as leaders. His famous quote goes like this: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” This means that there are occasions when experience is the enemy of understanding. The longer we see an issue one way, the harder it is to change our minds about that issue. And, the longer a problem persists, the more likely it is accepted as unsolvable. 

Suzuki teaches us that “the mind of a beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities.” The mind of an expert is often the opposite, coming to a conclusion based on what we already know versus the promise and potential of making new discoveries. This is a persistent problem in all fields, and we see it alive and well within education. The field of education is riddled with this problem, holding on to traditions and activities that we refer to as “Protected Untouchables” in 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders.   

We can point to a number of things that we still do the same way that we’ve done for years, despite the research that tells us otherwise. Consider grading practices, such as the 100-point scale or the way we average students’ assignments within a marking period. First, there aren’t valid reasons for why we do this, and, second, there’s clear research that tells us that other approaches would serve our learners–both their academic and social well-being–better if we made significant changes to our current practices

Even at Yale University, where grading is said to have begun, professor of psychology Dr. Laurie Santos still must enter grades even though her very own research shows that it hinders the learning process. This speaks to the numerous challenges associated with large-scale change, which requires a completely new way of thinking. 

Grading is just one example of so many other long-standing traditions. But, it can be used to support the notion that education is an impenetrable industrial complex. We’re trapped within a system of schooling that spans from kindergarten through college that relies on methods and practices that are designed to measure learning, but then fall short in actually determining mastery. We keep a practice in place that thwarts our ability to meet our own predetermined goals. Pick another problem; the story is the same.

Part of the problem is that we think like experts. We are so used to doing things one way that we can’t see any other options, even when the literature is clear in our own field. The opposite approach is to use a Beginner’s Mindset, stepping back to see a problem from a whole new perspective. This is why certain school systems are unsuccessful with changes. They’re looking at the problem with the same lens that they used to create it. One reason that keeps us from sustaining new changes is that we constantly flip back-and-forth between one initiative and the next or we go back to what we’ve always done because it’s what we know, even when it doesn’t work

We learned from Richard Elmore that a beginner’s mind is the approach necessary to challenge old and persistent thinking. What we need more than anything are models for generating new designs for how to tackle old problems. Your journey to having a beginner’s mind can start today, but you must first hold yourself accountable to the following A, B, Cs of a Beginner’s Mind. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re willing to challenge the status quo with new mindshifts for teaching and leading in your school. Let’s get started with three simple steps that any school leader can take. 

#1. Ask Questions–Generate probing questions, don’t accept a singular perspective to see the challenge with a new perspective 

Excerpt from 7 Mentals Shifts: Finding New Ways to Think About Old Problems

It might seem unbelievable that our expertise could actually interfere with our ability to solve problems. Abraham Luchins (1942), a German psychologist, conducted a famous study called The Water Jug Experiment. The study was designed to investigate mental flexibility in thinking. In other words, if people can successfully solve a problem one way, can they shift their problem-solving process when faced with similar, but different, problems? Could people identify new, simpler, more efficient ways of solving a problem or does their previous knowledge create mental rigidity in their thinking?

Lutchin’s findings are clear. Once we have success with solving a particular problem a certain way, we continue to apply that same approach time and time again. This limits us from solving persistent problems because we get stuck with old ways of thinking and the model we used to solve the problems that didn’t work on our first attempt. To battle this, great leaders learn to ask effective questions. As E.E. Cummings penned, “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” 

We subscribe to what Todd Henry has to say in Herding Tigers about gleaning information from the team: 

Because of vastly different life experiences, each person on your team has a unique perspective. Those experiences create filters that we can’t help but bring to the work we do. Two people can look at the same problem and see two entirely different things. This is why we need one another in order to see the full picture. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds to gain this perspective. A big part of this process is establishing regular feedback loops with team members so that you can (a) reinforce the ‘main thing’ and (b) hear their front-line perspective on the state of their work. 

Pro Level Tip: Memorize great and useful question-stems to help generate good conversation and discussions. Questioning is a skill that requires practice and repetition. If you are at a loss on where to start, always remember the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling: “I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.” Beginners ask lots of questions, and so should you. 

#2. Be Vulnerable–Always think like a novice, and never overestimate your own expertise

Vulnerable leaders are “more interested in understanding reality than in being right and are not afraid to accept that they are wrong.” Being vulnerable does not mean being weak. In fact, admitting failure, blindspots, and challenges, helps the team to better understand the gaps in a transparent way. If we’re going to solve problems, we have to first be clear about what they are and why they exist.

One of the things that leaders who have a Beginner’s Mind are adept at doing is consistently working toward self-improvement. Not only are they on a quest to learn more and get better, but they also communicate their own weaknesses as well as the way they’re trying to address those deficiencies to their team. This puts us in a position with less authority over what it means to be an expert, but it also fosters the mindset that we ought to act as novices whenever we can. The novice mind, as Suzuki demonstrated, is the one that’s most open to learning and change. 

Pro Level Tip: We have to be willing to ask the team, “what am I not seeing?” or “what am I missing?” Letting your team know that you are aware of your own blindspots is empowering for them. It also builds trust. Remember, one of Covey’s high trust behaviors is to Get Better. When you do that with transparency and the help of your team, you’ll build even stronger bonds with them, and they’ll see that using a Beginner’s Mind is important for all of us. The way to shed your expert brain is to be vulnerable about what you don’t know and what you need to improve about yourself.  

#3. Create Space–Get past the constant noise, and don’t operate on autopilot

Very often, if we are so close to a situation that we cannot see it clearly. Our emotions, busyness, and distractions veil our site and hinder our ability to solve problems effectively. This is essentially the forest-for-the-trees argument, and despite the cliche, it’s true of many leaders. To practice a beginner’s mind, we need space. The constant noise of the day-in-and-day-out scenario can keep us on autopilot. Solving problems requires thinking differently; thinking differently requires time and space. 

There are times when we literally need to separate ourselves from a situation to be able to lead it effectively. It’s been documented that we make up to 35,000 decisions a day; if that’s true, then many of our important decisions deserve more thought and attention than we’re giving them on autopilot. 

Pro Level Tip: Literally separate yourself from a situation when possible. If it is a non-threatening emergency, go for a walk, stand up, grab a glass of water, or simply make time and space away from the decision at hand. Allow yourself to free your mind so that you are able to revisit the situation with a clearer perspective. The most mentally tough people don’t make decisions with haste. They’re positive, rational, and focused. That only happens when they create space for themselves

Final Thoughts

Like most things in life that are worthwhile, embracing a beginner’s mindset takes time and effort. It’s something we know that we should do and then as the day progresses, we find ourselves head down, working hard, and pushing for results, only to find ourselves falling back into the old habits that Suzuki-Roshi warns us of. That’s why we created the A, B, and Cs of a Beginner’s Mind: Ask Questions, Be Vulnerable, and Create Space. It’s simple enough to follow and powerful enough to produce results. Remember, to lead better and grow faster, we are working on progress, not perfection. Ask questions, Be Vulnerable, and Create Space. 

As always, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

302 Thoughts with Joe and T.J.: 5 Stress Free Ways that Leaders Can Use to Effectively Tell their School’s Story

302 Thoughts with Joe and T.J.: 5 Stress Free Ways that Leaders Can Use to Effectively Tell their School’s Story

In this episode of 302 Thoughts, Joe and T.J. riff on how school leaders take control of their school’s story. Schools are unique and complex hubs of the community, doing incredible things each and every day that must be shared. 

The harsh reality is that many people believe that schools are failing our students. There is no doubt that schools and school systems can improve, but great things are happening and need to be showcased. 

T.J. begins by explaining the very nature of our schools and how resources and support are paramount for success. We don’t overlook this because marketing is secondary to the critical work in schools that must be done upfront. However, once that work is moving forward, we have to showcase the school, the students, and the staff. 

People already have an impression of schools so the narrative school leaders portray must be true, accurate, and also unique. If someone graduated from high school then they’ve taken biology. However, many of today’s biology classes are working with instrumentation and conducting labs that are fascinating in ways that past generations didn’t experience–showcase it! Shock people with knowledge and with a window into the great learning that is going on every day. 

Be sure to feature who you are, not just what you are. This was one of the key takeaways from TheSchoolHouse302 OneThingSeries Podcast with Amanda Holdsworth. Schools are small cities with a tremendous number of cool things going on and great people who do awesome work. Share it! Involve the students, don’t be afraid to use Tik Tok, and most importantly, have fun. 

Joe’s one thing is to keep the branding efforts raw and organic. Schools aren’t marketing firms and nor should they act like one. That said, the digital age we live in allows for authentic and everyday marketing efforts. Easy to do, use it often, and use it well. 

T.J.’s one thing is to ship the work! Get it out there. Don’t hesitate. Take inventory of the great things going on, including the uniqueness of the school, and blast it out for the world to see. 

 

Let our team know if there’s a topic that you want Joe and T.J. to cover by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com

Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe on the site

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

 

Joe & T.J.

Amanda Holdsworth: Telling Your School’s Story #OneThingSeries

Amanda Holdsworth: Telling Your School’s Story #OneThingSeries

Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Know your area of expertise and stick to it. ~ Dr. Holdsworth 

About Amanda Holdsworth

Dr. Amanda Holdsworth, APR, is the founder of Holdsworth Communications, a PR and enrollment marketing agency in the education sector; the School Comms Lab, a membership community for school communicators; and Comms Mom, a global community for moms working in communications.

A former collegiate tennis and soccer player, Amanda earned a B.S.B.A. in Communications Management and Honors International Studies from Robert Morris University, and both a Master of Arts in Strategic Public Relations and a Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California.

Amanda’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., and Parents Magazine, but her pride and joy is her family: her husband, Doug, a successful entrepreneur, and two daughters, Avery and Shelby.

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Amanda Holdsworth

Amanda has done PR work in higher education, private schools, and public schools. Her insight into marketing and branding your school is invaluable. Learn how “to cut through the noise.”

It’s all about telling the story of the people who work in the organization. Create connections by telling their story to the community. Don’t miss the Curt Schilling example. 

Too many PR agencies, schools, and districts still think that public relations are about sending out press releases…not true. 

She gives sage advice regarding how stories should tie the school to the community so that it matters to the interests of the local people. 

T.J. gravitated toward the concept of an “ideal customer avatar” and how the ICA drives the narrative. The people, the vision and mission, and the impact the school is making are all ICA drivers.

To develop your ideal customer avatar, we need to enumerate our audiences. Schools and districts have multiple audiences, all with different interests. 

  1. Who are we communicating to? 
  2. What are their interests? 
  3. Who can help us get the word out? 

Schools can’t have a one-sided relationship with local journalists. You’ll want to hear what Amanda says about supporting relationships with the press so that they know how to help when the time comes. 

Amanda talks about the trend in the ability to get a hold of the national press versus local organizations. 

Amanda tells us about a two-prong approach that she learned at USC–have a strategic PR plan and “brand ambassadors.”

Amanda connected us to Jeremy Tiers to study how higher education is attracting students. Check out @coachtiers.  

She talks about practicing gratitude as something that all leaders can do daily. Use this sentence stem: “I’m so lucky to be in a position to…”

She acknowledges that she has never seen this degree of negative reporting about schools, making gratitude even more important. 

Listen to why she wants to play the bass guitar.

Amanda has learned to stay in her lane. Schools and districts can learn to focus on what they do best and how we can communicate that. 

Don’t miss what she says about being afraid to be an entrepreneur and what she realized when she went out on her own. 

Amanda ends by saying that we should tell the stories of our teachers and staff. Who is the school nurse? What can we share about the bus driver? It’s a people business. Let’s tell their stories. 

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Learn how you can give practical praise each day as you lead your school to develop a better and more positive culture through this complimentary eBook we use in our workshops to help principals all over the nation and subscribe for more resources like this one delivered to your inbox. 

Congratulations on claiming your copy - you may download it here: https://theschoolhouse302.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Technical-Tip-Praise-Practice-A-Model-for-Specific-Praise.pdf